Post Millennial Trauma Part 2: Ginger Snaps (2001)
Second up on my dispiriting trek through what passes for Horror in the 21st Century, and I do have to say, that so far this is one of the easier series that I’ve inflicted on myself. To begin with, I’m not at the whim of a complete catalogue by one director, so can avoid any bad periods, and secondly the only constraint I’ve got is that it has to be a really good film released from in the year in question. Luckily, I can fudge dates a wee bit to include things like Ginger Snaps as 2001, or even Audition as 2000, but on the whole, I’m feeling very confident about finishing this one.
If only I hadn’t picked horror…
It’s funny, because if, back in 1999, I’d have picked one subgenre of horror that I would have bet on really struggling in the 21st Century, then I’d have comfortably gone for Werewolf movies. The 80′s turned out some classics, as with everything in cinema in the 80′s, but the 90′s was atrocious. Yet the 21st Century turned out 2 of my favourites in the first 3 years, unfortunately Twilight came along to make them some kind of ethnic paedophile (like with everything in Twilight) but up until then there were some surprisingly acceptable entries. Ginger Snaps, I have to say, was probably the best of them, although I can always find a lot of love for Dog Soldiers. I love this film so much that I did actually consider putting it in my best of the decade for North America, but there are a couple of minor flaws to it that made me take it out. In hindsight, I should probably have have left it in, because it is an immense film.
Katherine Isabelle plays Ginger Fitzgerald, the elder of two socially inept Canadian high school girls. Emily Perkins plays her sister Bridget. They live a thoroughly depressing suburban life in a house dominated by Mimi Rogers utterly insane mother. To keep things interesting, the girls practise special effects and stage a huge amount of incredibly messy deaths that they then film for a school project. Soon enough their humdrum life spirals out-of-order when Ginger gets bitten by a wild beast that’s doing the rounds and begins a slow and messy transformation into a werewolf. Bridget, aided by Kris Lemeche’s (an actor I really like that needs more work) Sam is desperate to stave off the inevitable. The film climaxes in a show down between Bridget and a fully transformed Ginger.
This is a werewolf film with a difference. I’m not going to waffle on about “Werewolf= menstruation” too much, although it’s true, but I am going to say that the writing in Ginger Snaps is, for the most part, razor sharp, and they brilliantly depower the werewolf myth on the first appearance of the wolf: it’s flattened by Sam’s truck. Bridget’s cures for Ginger work on the basis of homeopathy and not mythology, and are, at best, only partially effective. The film doesn’t ever get ahead of itself, and each stage of Ginger’s transformation is brilliantly handled with clever makeup and a sterling performance from Isabelle.
There are two other strengths to the writing that nobody ever talks about (being more concerned with the aforementioned werewolf=period stuff). The first is the dialogue. It’s no stretch of hyperbole to say that the dialogue in Ginger Snaps is electric. I particularly like the exchange when the girls play “Search and Destroy”. They pick one female target and then Bridget ruthlessly character assassinates her. I love the exchanges in this sequence, particularly:
Ginger: Basic pleasure model?
Brigitte: Your standard cum-buckety date bait.
Nice. This is a brutal piece of character slaughter and it’s brilliant for a few reasons, not least of which is that it encapsulates the nature of the girls self-inflicted isolation. They can only make these observations because they are standing outside looking in, and they revel in their horrible emo-individuality. Awesome.
Secondly, the film is a metaphor for female puberty and whatnot, and Ginger’s development into a lycanthrope parallels her sexual awakening. She never loses her sardonic edge, and for that we’ve got to be thankful, but it’s no surprise that in a film as heavily female oriented as Ginger Snaps the girls live in a total matriachy. Their lives are completely dominated by women, to the extent that I think their father only has about two lines in the film. Their antagonists in the school are the other girls, and the problems that they face, for the most part, are female problems. Sam is the only “strong” male character in the film, and that’s partially because he’s a complete outsider. He’s the source of knowledge for the characters and it’s up to the girls to find the “practical” solution. It’s an interesting concept, this reversal of traditional gender roles, and I have to say that it’s brilliantly executed.
As clever as the writing to Ginger Snaps is, the acting more than equals it. Kris Lemeche is good as Sam, but Katherine Isabelle should, if there’s any justice in the world, be a star based on this. She isn’t and the only other role I can think of her playing (aside from a brief stint on Supernatural) was as cannon fodder in the execrable Freddy v Jason. Emily Perkins as Bridget is even better. She’s a strange, gawky presence and does loner misfit brilliantly. She’s the anchor to the film, allowing Isabelle the pyrotechnics, but it’s a genuinely outstanding performance. Nevertheless, both girls have to be, because for the film to be successful they have to sell the mutually dependant relationship that the Fitzgerald Sisters are in. It’s testament to how good they are that I never doubt for a second that they would do absolutely anything for each other. However, for me, the real shock was Mimi Rogers as Pam. This is a superb, middle class hand-wringing performance. She’s cringeworthy on occasion, overprotective, and eventually, quite clearly demented. Top drawer stuff.
Ginger Snaps is a simply excellent film, it’s not especially scary for the most part, but can raise a wince on occasion. However, it is frequently funny, and is for the most part an intelligent werewolf film (we need more of these). However, it isn’t perfect. The first problem is that there are a lot of loose ends that the film doesn’t tie up. What happens to Jason, for example? Or Pam? Or whatever. This isn’t fatal, but the big flaw is that this is a film with a very, very limited budget and as such the werewolf effects, once the transformation is complete, aren’t great. They’re practical (thank the lord), but they are also a touch clunky and the wolf itself isn’t convincing.
Still, this is a minor quibble for an arguable classic. I’m not going to pretend for a second that this is THE definitive werewolf movie, but I’d certainly have it in the top 5. It’s a genuinely superb film that’s well written, well performed and hugely entertaining. I watch it every now and again, and every time I thoroughly enjoy it. Ginger Snaps is smart, sassy and all round special and I give it an outstanding 3 and a half stacks of lovely biscuits out of four.
Astonishingly, the sequel is quite good as well.
2002 is next, and I’m feeling a bit blocked as to what to go for. At the moment, I’m leaning towards My Little Eye, but I’d rather another suggestion as I’m not certain that film is fit to stand in the company of Audition or Ginger Snaps.